WANT TO try ‘bamboo rice’, a unique form of rice collected from the seeds of flowered bamboos and considered a delicacy among tribals living in the interiors of Wayanad wildlife sanctuary in Kerala? Or, do you want to raise the Scoville unit (a spicy heat index) of your mundane dinner plate by adding pickle made of the fiery bhut jolokia—regarded as one of the world’s hottest peppers and found naturally in the remote north-eastern states of the country? If it’s the finesse of wicker willow work from the Kashmir valley that you’ve been itching to purchase, so be it.
Today, there is a clutch of dedicated region-specific e-commerce portals that are helping customers get access to things they would have only read about in Lonely Planet guides or seen on Discovery Channel. These e-retailers believe a large segment of the market—especially the unbranded small-scale and cottage industry segment—is yet to be tapped and provide natural, exotic and high-quality products, which are usually not available in conventional stores to customers.
TheNorthEastStore was born out of this premise. Its main target audience are the people of north-east India settled in other parts of the country and those who have been to or have experienced the north-east during travel/stay.
“However, we’ve also found that over a third of our customers are not from the north-east and are open to experimenting with the food and products from here,” says Catherine Dohling, a former Google employee and co-founder of the Shillong-based e-commerce company. Most of its food items are best-sellers, especially indigenous products like bhut jolokia, bamboo shoot, muga silk products and bamboo handicraft items like beer mugs “simply because they are not readily available in markets outside the region”, adds Dohling.
Like TheNorthEastStore, another portal, Giskaa, aims to be the ‘Flipkart or Myntra for north-east products’. “It’s definitely a niche market, but (we thought) why not give it a shot and create a platform, where artisans from the region can showcase and promote their products to the mainstream?” says Meghanath Singh, CEO of Bangalore-headquartered Giskaa. “There was a big buzz around eco-friendly products and Sikkim going organic, etc, when we started in 2014 and I thought we could position north-east India as a major production and burgeoning centre for high-quality, eco-friendly products,” adds the former ‘hardcore’ IT professional, having spent some 15 years in the industry before starting Giskaa.
Giskaa has deployed its own local ‘product specialists’ (who have vast local knowledge) in each of the eight states of the region to manage the sourcing of products, verify the authenticity and dispatch items to its warehouse and fulfillment centre in Guwahati. “Through this network of product specialists, we have created a large-scale ecosystem that allows us to source and seamlessly deliver high-quality and genuine products to customers, which were earlier largely inaccessible to the rest of India,” explains Singh.
Giskaa today receives an average of 1,700 unique visitors daily and is growing at a rate of 60% month-on-month. It has fulfilled and delivered orders all across India. “We have shipped not just to big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Pune, but also to smaller ones like Mysore, Indore, Surat, Vijayawada, Bhuj, Lucknow, Agra, Bareilly and Ranchi. Internationally, we have shipped to customers in Malaysia, Tanzania, Australia, UAE and Costa Rica,” adds Singh.
Muheet Mehraj’s KashmirBox.com originated from the fact that Kashmir in itself is a global brand and has approximately 10,000 stores worldwide selling produce from the region, but there was no presence at all on the Internet. “There was a dire need for a marketplace platform to create awareness and aid entrepreneurs in branding and selling their genuine and authentic produce and crafts. It has become more important now, as brand Kashmir has been adversely affected. This is because of some traders who are, for short-term gains, selling imitation products, as well as produce from other regions, mostly of inferior quality, and showcasing them as premium Kashmiri products/produce,” Mehraj adds.
KashmirBox.com hosts everything that comes from the geography of Kashmir: pashmina, carpets, dry fruits, spices, fruits (especially apples), crafts (papier-mâché, walnut wood and willow), etc. “We currently are the world’s largest collection of Kashmiri products online. Also, we have young designers and entrepreneurs starting their own brands and who need global visibility—we provide them that,” offers Mehraj.
Another website, Greenkurry, was established to help smaller business communities enter online sales without technical knowledge or much money. The website offers branded and unbranded organic products that are not readily available in the market. Another reason to begin operations was to fulfill the need for unadulterated, preservative-less food products. Among the many things that the Thiruvananthapuram-based portal offers are dry fruits, spices and herbal products specific to the state of Kerala.